December 5th, 2007

Social Entrepreneurship Summit Participants Unite in Next Steps for The Sector
Over 250 participants attended the Canadian Social Entrepreneurship Summit, an interactive gathering of non-profit, academic and social thought leaders from the social entrepreneurship sector in Canada. Participants convened today for a full day to share and engage on experiences, build cohesion and collaboration, and develop specific initiatives addressing some of the most significant social, economic and environmental issues facing the country. At the inaugural event, local and international leaders from business, non-profit, education, and government sectors attended a day-long series of discussions. Participants took stock of the country's successes and explored ways to address its challenges, including how to attack unmet social needs through innovation that is both sustainable and scalable.

Residential school survivors gouged? Northern stores charge 1.5% cheque fee
Northern stores are acting as a bank of last resort for in remote communities looking for ways to cash $250 million in cheques. But there's a price to pay for the service on reserves where there are no banks: Northern is taking a 1.5 per cent cut of each cheque. About 12,000 people in Northern Canada are eligible for $250 million worth of cheques, averaging $18,000, with maximums as high as $30,000.

Northern stores are processing the cheques for a fee of 1.5 per cent, offering $2,500 cash and the option of credit cards, debit cards or store credits. "We're the only game in town," said Michael McMullen, executive vice-president with the North West Company, which runs 145 Northern stores in Canada, Greenland and Alaska. "We're trying to do the right thing. And maybe there are other choices people would like, but that's all we can do. We're not a bank." Some northerners claim Northern's solution is cheating poor elderly people. "I'm very concerned about this whole situation," said Gabby Munroe, who is a residential school settlement co-ordinator at Garden Hill, one of four fly-in communities in the Island Lake First Nations about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

In Garden Hill's sister community of St. Theresa Point, band officials talked a credit union into opening up a branch just for the cheques, worth an estimated $3.5 million there. "We got a credit union in our community to give our people an option, so Northern won't get the 1.5 per cent. Median (Credit Union) set up two weeks ago," St. Theresa's settlement co-ordinator Marcel Mason said.

Wasaya Group breaks ground in First Nation banking plan
The Wasaya Group announced two business deals on Tuesday that could greatly benefit remote First Nation communities across the north. The first was the creation of a first nation banking system, the first of its kind in the province. Using a $345,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Northern Lights Credit Union will develop a pilot project that provides banking services to northern communities. The banking system will be based out of Bearskin First Nation but as the program progresses, it will branch out across the north. Trillium Foundation spokesperson Donna Gilhooly says this program has a great future in store.

Social economy report reveals need for more effective funding strategy
Policymakers need to work with social and community groups to develop a more effective funding strategy, a report on social economy in the province reveals. The report, Bridging Public Investment and Social Value, compiled results from several interviews with social organizations in the province. The report’s author, Barbara Groome Wynne, was at a recent workshop to discuss the report. She said they began to look at the social economy, which encompasses many service and not-for-profit groups, after the federal government cut back funding to several social programs. Following the cuts, the Social Economy and Sustainability Research Network decided to study what effects the cuts have on social groups. “We found many groups on P.E.I. were saying, ‘We’re in trouble. We’re losing funding’,” said Wynne. The report will provide social groups with a formal document to present to policymakers and will strengthen their voice.

Evergreen founder wins Schwab social entrepreneur award
Geoff Cape, founding executive director of the environmental organization Evergreen, is a pioneer in bringing a bit of nature to the urban landscape. His entrepreneurial attitude and his dedication to nature was honoured with the Schwab Foundation's Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award, which was presented in Toronto last night. Evergreen, which Mr. Cape began in 1991 as a program to plant trees on campuses and school grounds, has evolved into an environmental organization with a goal to bring green space to city dwellers. The charity provides people in Canadian cities with the tools to create and maintain natural outdoor spaces. It now has more than 70 employees, and offices in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Mr. Cape is given credit for leading the transformation of the derelict Don Valley Brick Works in Toronto into a showcase of green programs and services.

Supporting local sustainable ventures
When Ian Gill decided to leave his long, successful career in journalism 13 years ago, the environment correspondent got a lot of offers from organizations keen to employ the erudite ex-Vancouver Sun, ex-CBC staffer, but one in particular caught his eye. "It was either jobs or the environment," he recalls about attitudes about serving environmental causes. "I didn't really hear anyone say 'jobs AND the environment.' Only Ecotrust did that." So the Australian-Canadian, who had moved to British Columbia in 1981, helped create Ecotrust Canada in 1994 as an offshoot of an American non-profit group by the same name. Ecotrust Canada aims to establish a "conservation economy" around the country, one where economic opportunity improves rather than harms social and environmental conditions, said Mr. Gill, 52.

Overall, Ecotrust Canada's team of 30 has helped set up or support 80 separate businesses, about a third of them stemming from aboriginal entrepreneurship. "I look forward to the day when there is no such term as social entrepreneur because there is nothing unique about an entrepreneur with an investment that has a social return," said Mr. Gill. "In time, I think this will be obvious and second nature. But at the moment it is new and groundbreaking."